A Note from Rick and Noreen Lawson

One of the first things that comes to mind when walking through the favela of Cambuim are the words of the Lord Jesus, “For you will have the poor with you always” (Matthew 11:6). But just how poor is poor? I went through streets of dirt and litter. The walls of the homes that lined the streets were an assortment of trash and scraps of wood, serving as a shelter for these poor people. The river that wound its way through the village consisted of runoff waste-water with a smell that stopped me in my tracks. 

The word “poor” is defined as having little or no money, goods, or other means of support. This brief list can never describe the feelings and emotions felt when actually meeting the faces of these people that survive in these conditions. Going on about how sad the situation is would only be repeating what has all ready been reported on this website. Instead let’s focus on the positive.

In Matthew 26:6 the Lord is found in the home of Simon the Leper. A woman of Bethany is there having an alabaster box of precious ointment and has poured it on the Lord’s head to anoint him for his burial. The gospel of John tells us that He was there with Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead, and that, “…many Jews went away, believing on the Lord Jesus” (John 12:1,11).This is the goal of the effort that is taking place in Cambuim. To show these destitute people the way to the Lord so they might also believe in Him.

We also read in the gospel of Mark, “She (Mary) has done what she could” (Mark 14:8). In Cambuim, attempting to give out a few sandwiches, a little juice, first aid, and some donated clothes in order to pass on God’s Word is all we can do. God has to do the rest.

God has promised a blessing in this work. For the Lord spoke of feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and said, “inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).


Video Blog # 2- Favelas


Martin’s second video blog gives us a glimpse of the favelas of Brazil.


He lived here; He stayed.

* From a note by Gayle Procopio

Although I didn’t think I could add anything to what has already been written so beautifully and well by everyone else who has been here to help, I have been struck with one powerful thought over and over since the clinic day in Cambuim…

We went in to Cambuim, set up the table and tent and medical supplies, and tried to provide some help for the infinite variety of health problems of the people waiting for us. Trying to establish order, then maintain it so Lori, Noreen, and Nildete could work more effectively, was not easy, and I felt a little like the disciples who were trying to keep the crowd from thronging the Lord, or the children from swarming Him.

And He said, “No, let them come.”

Which got me thinking more and more about how He worked with everyone in need. He didn’t need anyone to diagnose the problems for Him – He went straight to the heart of their deepest needs spiritually as well as physically, and in His power changed their lives forever.

As we packed up after a few hours in the hot sun and dirt, got into the truck, cleaned our hands with the sanitizer, drank the now warm water in our bottles, and turned on the AC as we left to go to a comfortable, clean house not surrounded by garbage, without a horse or a goat in the entryway, I realized Jesus didn’t pack up and go away, and then return the next week. He left a place infinitely more wonderful than we can begin to imagine, loved by every being who inhabited it, and came to a world that was the equivalent of a favela – and worse, I think from the descriptions of Nazareth and the reputation it had, He was actually living in a favela.

Our sin and filth and garbage must have offended His senses daily – but He lived here; He stayed. And somehow, in a way we can’t understand, He learned from those years here in this polluted piece of His universe, and will never get tired of helping us overcome that filth every day.

But I kept thinking about having those very neighbors and co-residents of the favela, us, NOT be grateful and thankful, but reject Him, and ultimately kill Him, in spite of His coming to save, and in His everlasting love and mercy He died to be able to forgive us and remove us completely from that realm. So how can we not worship Him every time we think about that, every time we see a slum or favela, every time the dirt and need and conditions seem overwhelming!


Kilometer Six

Here are the photographs of a new favela- Kilometer Six that one our street kids brought us to.
waiting for food and juice
main road. An old banner, advertising a mobile company’s newest deal, makes up the front wall of a house, across the “street”
livestock pen
entrance to a house
down a side street
animals roam inside, and outside, the houses
A river runs through it…it’s sewage.
one row of houses
inside the house of one of our boys from Ponta Negra. Six people live here. Four sleep on the bed, one in the hammock….
and our boy sleeps on the dirt floor
just down the lane
This one looks good to me; it’s made with better materials.
a door without a house….yet
sitting on the banks of the sewage stream
They are filthy. There is no running water. They have no shoes. They are covered with sores and rashes, they are malnourished, filled with lice and bichus in their feet.
living room
Side street

My Time in Natal

Lori asked me to write something for the Brazil Update site when I returned home and had something bigger than a hand-held device to type on. Several of the Christians in my own assembly have also asked me to write a summary of the trip. This diary-style report attempts to satisfy both audiences. I apologize to the regular blog readers for the names and details I have included that you are already familiar with. The rest of you might want to go to http://valivre.blogspot.com to see pictures or read past updates or register your e-mail to receive future updates.

August 12-29, 2010

My niece Anna and I arrived on a Thursday afternoon at the usual time each week that 600 sandwiches and 40 liters of juice are dispensed throughout the streets of Natal with love and compassion and a printed message of the gospel. Because of our Thursday arrival the work was postponed until Friday and we were privileged to participate on our first day there. The trip around the city that day included 10 stops and took about 7 hours. (This large time factor is due to the time spent at each stop as well as the condition of the roads.) At one stop a woman told Lori that she was tired of her sin and asked to be prayed for. After Lori prayed with her, a city worker walked up and told this woman and Lori that he had been saved for 9 years and began to quote verses and discuss the gospel with Lori so that this woman would hear what God had done for him. We left them talking together; knowing God had arranged this seemingly coincidental meeting. While Anna gave out the sandwiches at each stop, Caroline and I dispensed the juice and Mark and Lori moved among the kids, speaking to them, putting an arm around them, sitting with them or praying with them as they ate. It is difficult to tell the ages of these young people from their faces as many look 10 or even 20 years older than they are due to the harsh conditions of living on the streets. It is heart warming to see how they look for the new gospel paper that comes with the sandwich. One young man told Lori that he lives in an abandoned building and with whatever light is available at night he reads the papers over and over. I couldn’t help but think how difficult it might be for these souls to grasp such a message of hope in their present living conditions and yet they readily acknowledge that they know God has sent “friends all the way from America” to them as no one in their own city has shown any care for their physical or spiritual well-being. Please pray for this work as God continues to present personal opportunities to share the gospel with these souls.

Sunday evening Mark gave a short gospel message to the children in the village of Aningas. The children gathered in the galpão, a large multi-purpose building in the center of the village that Mark and Lori have been given to use and which Mark has remodeled. About twenty four children came in and sat on benches but more came and stayed outside near the doorway to listen and watch. Caroline and Anna walked to the houses of some of the teenage girls and brought them to the galpão. Two adult sisters who are Christians also attended and the four young men that work for Mark came and sat on the work table. Mark stood facing them to get their attention and spoke the message in English and Lori translated. The message was simple and short and many of the older children listened with interest. We had brought juice and cookies in Mark’s truck and the children eagerly accepted these treats before walking home. Please pray for this new effort and the Seed that is being sown as the weeks go by, that these children will believe the gospel.

On Monday morning Mark and William packed up the 4-wheeler and left for Aningas to continue clearing the land they have purchased to build an orphanage. (Aningas is about 45 minutes north of the city of Natal in a rural area.) Lori, Caroline, Anna and I headed about 45 minutes in the opposite direction to visit the orphanage that had moved this year from a favela (the Brazilian Portuguese term for a settlement of self constructed houses with narrow and sometimes impassible dirt streets) to a rural area in the south of the city. We stopped for several large sacks of basic grocery and cleaning supplies and delivered them. The supplies were gratefully accepted as from the Lord.

Two years ago I visited this orphanage when it was located in the favela and remember the crowded and inadequate space for these children with no place to play except on the sidewalk. Cleide, the Christian woman who runs this orphanage was sleeping on a foam mattress that she kept in the closet during the day and dragged out to the living area to sleep on the floor at night. It was wonderful to see how the Lord has provided for them in the intervening two years. They now have a large yard that is fenced in and includes some animals and a garden. There are two buildings so the boys sleep in the main building and the girls and woman have bedrooms in the other. The children proudly showed us around, smiling and running. A judge has recently assigned a single mother with five children, including a newborn, to this place as he has been impressed by how it is run. We made note of a few clothing needs so that we could return with some of the donated items we had brought with us. Please pray for this woman and her family (her husband, daughter and parents) and their tireless work to care for these orphaned children.

The rehab center that Mark and Lori have taken some of the young people from the streets to is in the same area as the relocated orphanage but we did not have time to shop for and visit both places in one afternoon so planned to return the next Monday. Sadly, with the events that took place the next weekend we were not able to visit this place on this trip so I did not get to meet Clessio, the young man who was saved there. This rehab center is a non-denominational Bible-teaching rehab center with a nine month program. It was started by a man who, through the help of a pastor, beat his own addiction and was saved.

Tuesday morning Lori worked on the order of New Testaments and Gospels of John that she had started in the spring. She had only received about one half of the original order and it is taking many e-mails and telephone calls to see when the rest will be printed and if they will honor the original price. No replies. We prayed about it and later in the day they finally confirmed that they agreed with both the original price and the remaining quantity that would be delivered. (Note: she received about ten percent of the order after we left but with no indication as to when the rest will be coming. This is how this type of process goes in Brazil! I’m sure it is back to more e-mails and telephone calls.) Please pray for this part of the work as Mark and Lori desire to place a Bible in the hands of every person who wants one and will only be constrained by production logistics and pricing.

That afternoon we girls headed to Aningas. Caroline and Anna gathered a few of the teenage girls together and spent time with them in the galpão where Anna was able to practice the Portuguese she had been studying and the girls were able to practice the English they had studied with Stephanie and Katie earlier this summer. Lori and I visited three homes with Nildete, a government social worker who lives in the village. Nildete is a Christian. Her job is to assess the needs in each household each month. There are about three hundred families in less than two hundred homes. Unfortunately nothing much comes of the government reporting and sometimes there is quite a delay in her being paid but it gives her a good handle on the living conditions of each family on a regular basis. Mark and Lori keep a pantry stocked with basic food items such as rice, beans, salt, sugar and flour and Nildete has access to that supply as needed. Her work helps them focus on critical needs. Please pray for Nildete as she faithfully does her work with a genuine love and care for these families.

Some of the families in this village live in stick huts, others in simple cement houses with dirt floors and the more fortunate ones in simple cement houses with cement floors. Most of the houses are divided into a kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedrooms by sheets that hang in the doorways. The ceilings are open to the roof for ventilation, and there is usually a gap between the top of the walls and the roof. Most bathrooms are primitive. Most homes seem to have two small bedrooms. I noticed in one house that there were mats placed under the bed (a rough wooden structure only about six or eight inches off the ground and with one thin mattress on top) for children. Visiting these families was quite a unique experience for me as even in these destitute situations people are reluctant to ask for help. One mother had three boys who needed clothes and shoes. Another mother with three girls was too ashamed to tell us what the girls needed so we guessed at sizes for clothes and shoes. Nildete told us they had had no food other than rice and beans for several days and so we added fresh vegetables to the list for this family. The third mother had just moved into her house the weekend before. She had left an abusive husband and moved into this house with their three children and two of his children from a prior relationship that he did not want. She is also pregnant. She has no job and no money and a few neighbors were sharing their meager supplies with her but she did not even have the money for rent which was the equivalent of only $30.00 per month. We made a list of the children’s sizes and Lori agreed to pay the first month’s rent when it became due to give her time to settle in and for her teenage boy (from her husband’s prior relationship) to get paid from a job he had gotten.

In the homes, Lori hugged and talked to each mother, telling her that God had heard her cries on behalf of her children and had sent us to provide some clothing and shoes from donated items. She asked the names and ages of the children and prayed with each mother for her family, asking for their physical and spiritual blessing. Each mother listened to the heartfelt prayer with tears in her eyes. Nildete also invited each family to hear the gospel message in the galpão on Sunday evenings. Please pray for the salvation of the families in this village and that registering VaLivre as a non-profit organization in Brazil will allow more items to be sent for this purpose at the lowest shipping and tax rates.

I should note that as we were walking around the town we were passed several times by William (whom I have dubbed the “pied piper” of Aningas) giving rides on his 4 wheeler to several of the kids. He has an amazing way of befriending everyone, adults and children alike, and they love him. I should also note that he and Caroline have become quite fluent – at least it appears they communicate in Portuguese with ease. When we returned to the galpão to collect the girls, we found Mark not so at ease in the middle of his Portuguese lesson with Eliel. (Eliel is a missionary from São Paulo to the state of Rio Grande Do Norte and lives near one of the assemblies in Natal. He learned English in college and it is very proper. He is a very warm and friendly person and a patient but strict teacher!) Mark has quite a large Portuguese vocabulary but is learning grammar and by the expression on his face one can only conclude that it is quite tedious. Please pray for Mark in this effort as he truly wants to be able to communicate and speak his gospel messages in Portuguese.

Wednesday we sorted through the donated items and packed the donations for the families we had visited, shopped for the vegetables we had put on our list and headed to Aningas. We dropped the donations off and they were shyly accepted with tears and thanks. Again I am struck by how readily people in this village give God the credit for the things they receive. Anna and Caroline went with the girls from the village to the lagoa (lake) for a visit and a swim. Nildete told us about another family we needed to meet and we went to a stick house and met a mother, her three children, her sister, sister-in-law and another family member. The biggest need in this family was shoes so we took them to the galpão and let them sort through the bins of flip-flops and Crocs that had been donated earlier in the summer. They each left with a pair of shoes and a smile and a thank you.

Outside the galpão we met a fourteen year-old boy named Alfonso who has been attending the gospel messages on Sunday nights. He is usually the first to arrive and “dresses up” by putting on a pair of long pants. This boy appears to suffer from a disease known as Pica. This condition emerged after the death of both of his parents four years ago. He eats dirt and other non-food items and sleeps by the river with the animals. He has an older sister who lives in a house but does not really care for him, although there may be a mutual problem there because of his illness. Lori approached him and although he doesn’t usually talk to anyone, he let her clean his feet and put some medicinal cream on them as his feet are in very bad shape. This is an extreme case of a child who needs proper nutrition and care and the kind of child that the orphanage is intended for. Please pray for this young boy in particular as he faithfully listens to the gospel messages that God will save him and that Nildete and Lori and others will be able to get him the help he needs for his physical condition.

As a side note, it might be interesting to describe the business and bill payment process in order to understand how things operate in Brazil. The systems are all very labor intensive. In a retail store you don’t simply choose an item and take it to a cashier, you take the item to a person whose sole job is to write up a sales slip and then you take that to a cashier so you stand in two lines. Paying bills seems a full-time job. You must go to that vendor’s bank and pay in cash. You can’t pay in advance so you must do this each month for each vendor. When a legal signature is required you must have your signature authenticated, which is like a notary public seal but requiring many more documents to prove your identity (e.g. birth certificate, marriage license, etc.) and each time you need to do this you must produce the documents. Lori asked for 10 authentications at one time and she said they looked at her like she was trying to pull a scam. She is carrying a large file around in the car and every week one or two of these needs to be fit into a day and it is quite a disruptive responsibility.

On Thursday we assembled the sandwiches and mixed the juice for the weekly feeding. The sandwiches are made of mortadella (a popular bologna type meat) and mozzarella. While most of these children eat mortadella, they very rarely would have cheese so this is quite a treat. All 600 rolls are delivered to the house each week from a local bakery. The juice is Tang but it is in Brazilian fruit flavors and very much improved over the Tang I remember from the ‘70’s. The whole prep process, including slicing the rolls and cutting the meat and cheese, takes about two hours.

This week it was eleven stops in six hours as a couple of the stops had only two or three people. At one of the stops someone suggested a new place across the city for Lori and Mark to consider as a potential stop. At the final stop a deaf girl in her late teens or early twenties came to get sandwiches and juice. When she looked at the gospel paper, she started gesturing for several minutes very intently and with a fierce look in her eyes. We did not know if she could actually read but she seemed to know that the paper talked about God. Mark, Lori and I watched her carefully as she would poke us if we looked away. We concluded that she was trying to communicate to us that she knew God from a young age but that He had not been good to her. Lori bravely tried to use her language of gestures to tell her that God loves her but the expression on her face did not change and we could only pray for her as she walked away. At least she took the paper and we prayed that she could and would read it. During this time, Anna was taking pictures of all the children and they were crowding around to see the pictures on her camera and then wanted their pictures taken with her. They didn’t want her to leave but the sandwiches and juice were long gone and so we headed home before dark. (The sun sets about 5:15 p.m. and rises about 5:15 a.m.)

On Friday, we were back in Aningas. At the galpão, Lori gave some of the young girls an English lesson through the making of beaded bracelets. Anna helped her with this while Caroline and I gave some of the younger children Bible story pictures to color. At the other end of the building, Mark was working on what I called his contraption but which he called his masterpiece. This is the very sturdy wooden structure that fits perfectly into the back of his truck and holds 2 double thermoses and three large (water cooler size bottles) juice containers, a cooler of ice, a tall sleeve of plastic cups and a pump mechanism to get the juice from the bottles to the thermoses. It is quite an impressive structure but it takes abuse on the drive around the city and must be repaired from time to time. Look closely at posted photos of the street feeding for this red furniture marvel.

After leaving the galpão Lori, Caroline, Anna and I all squeezed onto a couch in a small living room as we visited another family. This woman has been raising her sister’s twins for two years since their birth and has now taken in her other four children. Her sister died a few days after the birth of her twins as far as Lori can tell because she hemorrhaged after being released from the hospital and did not have the bus fare of about $30.00 to go back to the hospital in the city. We made a list of the sizes of these children to help with some clothes and intended to come back on Monday but that was postponed because of the events on Sunday night and Lori had to make the delivery a week later.

We drove over to see the land and the progress on clearing it. It is a beautiful piece of property and Mark showed me the plans for the buildings and gardens and animal pens. He has already built a large gate at the entrance. William and the young men working on the land had found a large bee hive and one of them offered to smoke the bees out so we could get some honey. It was fun to watch this process but there was no honey after all that work! There are willing workers here but manual labor is very slow and inefficient as they burn the scrub they clear. However, renting machinery is not yet a possibility as it is unreasonably expensive. Mark is hoping to find someone who will rent him a machine at down-times or for a much lower price and is waiting for God to provide this. Please pray that God will provide the funds and machinery needed for this building project.

We spent the weekend relaxing, taking care of some necessary errands, reading, swimming in the ocean or pool and talking about the scriptures. Since I have come home I miss the thought-provoking nuggets that Mark would toss out to us after a couple of hours of private study on the lanai and the long and probing conversations about the scriptures with Lori. Anna, Caroline and William took a three hour buggy ride on the dunes but that much exposure to the hot sun would be too much for me so I had to decline even though it sounded like great fun. The rest of the weekend it rained.

Sunday night we went to Aningas for Mark to speak another gospel message to the children. They already knew one chorus that had been hand written on poster boards. Lori found six more choruses in Portuguese so she printed them on sheets with Caroline and Anna’s help and we tied the two sheets together with ribbons to take with us. The children thought these sheets were great. One of the songs was “At the Cross” and the two sisters (Nildete and Sandra) already knew this and helped sing it to the children. Unfortunately I was no help as I didn’t know how to pronounce the words although the tune was very close to the one we sing. Mark asked questions about the previous week’s lesson and one of the older girls answered them well and won a prize. When a few of the others saw how this phenomenon worked, they listened a little more intently this week.

Some of the other people I should mention are those who live on the property with Mark and Lori. A family lives in the house inside the front gate. (The entire property is surrounded by a wall except for the beach front where there is a fence.) Neilson takes care of the property and lives there with his wife Simone and their son Lucas, who is 9 years old. He is William’s shadow when William is home! None of this family is saved. Inacia is a Christian from one of the assemblies in Natal and she lives in the house with Mark and Lori from Monday to Friday, cooking and cleaning. She is a warm hearted mothering type who works tirelessly and lovingly. She goes home on the weekends and Simone does the cooking those two days. When I was there two years ago the cooking was really great but was mostly Brazilian fare. Under Lori’s tutelage and guidance, there is a much wider variety of food and some great pasta and meat dishes! Please pray for this family’s salvation and for Inacia’s blessing as she has become an integral part of the work here.

Sunday night we were all sleeping at about 1:30 a.m. Three young men, armed with a home-made machine gun and a rusty revolver entered the house through my open ground-floor window. I woke up suddenly and glanced at the window and saw a young man’s face. I immediately got up only to realize that there was at least one person already in my room. I surprised him and he surprised me and before I knew it I was struggling with two of them. I screamed for help (it would sound more ladylike to say “called” for help but the others would be quick to correct me!) and they tried to muzzle me. After a struggle which seemed long but was probably just a couple of minutes, I could hear that someone was awake upstairs and I stopped struggling. Two of them pushed past me into the house and the other poked something at me and gestured for me to get upstairs. Meanwhile, Inacia had heard me and was able to get out of her room at the side of the house and bravely ran down to the gate house to call the police. The neighbors also heard me and called the police.

When I arrived upstairs with the third bandit behind me, Mark, Lori, Caroline, William and Anna were all on the floor in the hallway with the guns trained on them. I found out that Mark had been heading down the stairs and met them heading up the stairs with their guns pointed at him. Everyone else was awake and in the hallway by then except Anna, whom they woke up with a gun pointed at her face and told her to get into the hallway. While at least one of them pointed a gun at us, the other two began to loot the house of every valuable item, including laptops, i-phones, cameras, watches, etc. At times they spoke to Lori or William and demanded that Lori get things for them. It made things very tense for us when they took her out of sight. The bandits were yelling for cash, assuming there was a large amount in the house and looked unconvinced that there wasn’t more. William bravely suggested that they could exchange the American money they found and it would be worth more in Brazilian Reais. (1 Real is worth $.58. When you shop you can multiply all the prices by 60% and get the U.S. dollar value. $1.00 is worth R$1.72 so you can add 70% when converting from U.S. $ to Reais.) They seemed to accept William’s answer and moved on to loading the things in the car. They had made Lori get them the keys to her car so they could use it to transport all the stolen items as they had come on foot. They had tied each of Mark’s, Anna’s and Lori’s hands and made us all go into the master bedroom and closed the door. They had tied Lori’s hands with a nylon zip-tie and then yanked on it, virtually cutting off the circulation to her hands. I had been able to undo the knots in Mark’s rope/string by the time we heard the car start up and Mark got down the stairs and out the front door as they drove away. At the same time the police arrived, missing the bandits by less than two or three minutes. We quickly found something sharp to cut Lori’s and Anna’s ties off.

The whole time the bandits were looting we were alternately praying for and talking to each other, honestly expecting that our lives might end that night. Although the bandits seemed to be interested only in the goods and not intending to harm us (evidenced by the fact that they didn’t shoot me or try to suffocate me at the outset) they were carrying home-made and old weapons, which are known to be very dangerous, and they were very nervous and agitated and therefore seemed inexperienced and unpredictable.

Caroline’s verse during the time we all lay in the hallway has stayed with me in song. She was repeating to herself Psalm 18:10 “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” What a fitting verse for God to give to her in that moment! Clinton Utterbach wrote this verse to music and the Gaithers sang it in one of the homecoming productions. (For You Tube fans you can type in The Name of the Lord – Gaither and see it performed.) It continues to come into my mind when I think of that night.

When we were all outside with the police and they had gone in pursuit of Lori’s car and we were no longer in immediate physical danger, we prayed together and Mark thanked God for preserving us through the experience and asked God to show us what He wanted us to learn from it. We had keenly felt God’s presence during the robbery, but when we started to think of the many ways the events of that night could have unfolded and what might have happened we could see this more clearly and rejoice in God’s care and control over all of it.

Understanding that the bandits are “just like” the street children in Natal that they are trying to reach with the gospel, and knowing that the police at times tend to shoot them without “due process” Lori revealed to us that she had prayed that if the police were going to shoot them that they wouldn’t be able to find them until they would be brought to justice in a proper way. When she shared this with the woman who runs the bakery that delivers the 600 rolls every week, the woman was amazed and soon this testimony was reported around the town. Please pray for the salvation of these young men.

The aftermath of that night opened up the world of the Brazilian police for us and a new list of vocabulary words for Lori. First of all, there are many different types of police. There are military police, civil police, tourist police, car theft police and more and I won’t even try to describe the differences but we found that they don’t share any information because we had to give it all to each of them. (That is, Lori had to give it to all of them! During this process she had the additional burden of being the one we all relied on to communicate with the authorities. What a headache.) They don’t have a system for fingerprints so they don’t do anything at the scene except ask questions. We headed to Mark’s pickup (where he discovered the bandits had stolen some things including his prescription sunglasses) and it was a tangle of arms and legs in the extended cab as seven of us got in to ride into Natal to the police station. One of the police groups told us that they had spotted the car but “lost” it at the bridge into Natal. They would discover later that the bandits never crossed the bridge – they went next to it into a town only two beaches away from the house. From the first police station Lori called Eliel and he and his wife left their children with grandparents and came down to help. They were very kind and caring and it was a big help that William and I could ride in their car when the police told us we had to drive to a second police station.

We arrived home at 5:00 a.m. on Monday morning and all tried to get a few hours of sleep but it was a little difficult since the sun was already rising. At mid-morning the owners of the house (both doctors) arrived to see how we were and then more police who looked around the property. The doctors contacted a Delegate (local official) to help expedite the process with the police. In the daylight we could see three pairs of flip-flops that had been kicked off at the edge of the lanai and the police took them. In between visits by all the different police, we ate a late breakfast and began to make phone calls home and to credit card companies as all of our wallets except Lori’s were stolen. (Lori’s was a purse/wallet combination and when they looked inside and not in the front slots they tossed it aside thinking it was empty.) We also had to find out what to do about our flights to the U.S. the next day as Anna’s passport was stolen along with Mark, William and Caroline’s passports. My passport was in a zipper pocket in my purse, which they left after taking my wallet, and Lori’s was in her purse which they had not taken.

Commercial: American Express was a tremendous help to us. Once we contacted them they stayed on the line for over an hour and contacted everyone else for all of us, including finding the closest U.S. Embassy that could process an emergency passport and getting them on the line to make an appointment. They also offered to replace the stolen items that had been purchased with their card. They lived up to their excellent reputation.

Inacia faithfully worked all day cleaning the house and mopping up the dried blood. Some of it was from the gash on my leg during the struggle but one of the bandits must have cut his foot (they were barefoot) on glass that broke in my room and had tracked blood all over. She kept stopping to hug everyone and her expression was sad. When Caroline asked if she wanted to go to her own home, she said couldn’t think of leaving as she was with family.

Monday night was tough. We all slept upstairs with all the windows closed. (The bandits had only stolen one fan, so at least each room had a fan.) I slept in William’s room and he slept in Mark and Lori’s room and Inacia slept in Caroline’s room with Caroline and Anna. Lori, as you might expect, did some roaming in the night to make sure everyone was sleeping. She also took time to download contacts and applications onto William’s i-phone as the bandits had not taken it supposing it to be an alarm clock. (The i-phone did not work as a telephone there but at least we had access to internet and e-mail.)

Tuesday we spent doing three things. (1) We made a police report on everything that was stolen. Anna and I had to make a separate report with the tourist police while Mark and Lori were sent to another group. This took over three hours. We went home for lunch and left William, Caroline and Anna home to relax and swim while Mark, Lori and I accomplished the other two items. (2) We went to the federal building to get a printout of Anna’s visa so there would be no problem traveling the next day to Recife to get her a new passport. Meanwhile, Dave (my brother – back in Michigan) had to locate Anna’s passport card at home and scan it and e-mail it to the U.S. Embassy because they said they would still require two forms of I.D. for the passport! (3) We went to the bus station to purchase tickets for all six of us to travel to Recife. There is no way, such as telephone or internet, to buy or reserve tickets other than to drive to the bus station – which looks like an abandoned building with booths set up in it – and buy them in person. (This reminded Mark of his first reports of work in Brazil, which sounded like they accomplished very little each day. The whole system is designed for things to be accomplished in a face-to-face, manual and unhurried way!) On the way home, we stopped by the new area that some of the street children had suggested and found the most run-down favela that Mark and Lori had seen anywhere in Natal. They quickly judged that a feeding here would have to be done on another day as they didn’t have the capacity or time to add it to their normal Thursday. They talked to a few people there and promised to come back on Friday with lunch.

Wednesday we got up at 4:30 a.m. and got to the bus station at 6:00 a.m. and rode five hours to Recife. The buses in this country are extremely nice. They are air-conditioned Greyhound or tour-type buses, with a bathroom and cooler from which you can buy sandwiches, snacks and drinks. We arrived in Recife and got the usual Brazilian directions to the embassy. This is quite an amazing concept. No one will give you more than one instruction at a time. They literally say “go straight past that light and ask again.” The next person says, “take the next street to the right and ask again.” The next person says “keep going straight and ask again.” No kidding. You have to ask as many people as there are turns and stops along the way. After finding it and going through airport-like security, we were shown to a small room (with three chairs although there were six of us) labeled “American Citizen Services.” The rest of the main room was filled with Brazilians waiting for visas to travel to the U.S. Two hours later they were all processed and it was our turn.

We had thought we might be shown to a room other than the small waiting room for our appointment but they simply came to the glass window and handed forms back and forth. When we asked if we could call Heidi (Anna’s mother) to get some information she needed on her form we were told that they couldn’t make international calls. What? They also refused to fax the police report to the airline for us as they could only send “official” faxes. Even though this building had a sign that said “U.S. Embassy” it did not feel like any kind of real link back to the U.S. Two hours later Anna had a new passport and Mark, William and Caroline’s applications had been accepted. (They will receive theirs by mail.) We found a restaurant for our only real meal of the day and then headed to the bus station and the 5:00 p.m. bus back to Natal. It arrived at 10:00 p.m. and we still had to shop for the street feeding on the way home. We arrived home after midnight making it a 20 hour day.

Thursday morning should have found us assembling the sandwiches for the street feeding but the call came in at 7:00 a.m. that the stolen car had been found in the dunes. The police instructed Mark and Lori to meet them there and they had to hire a buggy to take them to the place. It gets better. There were no wheels or tires on the car and no battery, rear-view mirror or windshield wipers. It did not appear that the bandits touched the engine. The police asked Mark and Lori how they planned to get it out of there. Talk about adding insult to injury! After meeting the doctors that own the house and the Delegate again, they found the only shop in Natal that could provide what they needed and had to spend R$ 4,000 (remember the math? Multiply by 60% to get the U.S. dollar value) and then Mark would still have to take the items to the site and put them on the car himself. When he contacted his friend Sosa, a local buggy driver, Sosa contacted four other friends who were all angry at the robbery on Mark and Lori’s behalf and they helped dig the car out, install the wheels and tires and battery and drive the car home. Their help even included getting an auto parts store to open back up because they didn’t have the right lug nuts from the first store. The car arrived home at 7:00 p.m. This was the first week that Mark and Lori missed a street feeding and we were all disheartened that a standing promise had to be broken. At home that afternoon, Caroline, Anna and I had already cut and assembled all the meat and cheese onto trays so they would now be ready for sandwiches for the new stop on Friday.

Another item we accomplished on Thursday after several phones calls and Lori invoking “the tone” was to get United Airlines to agree to let us fly home on Sunday at no additional cost. They had been willing to waive any change fees but stated that our fares were no longer valid and we would have to pay an additional $351 each to return home. (This is why we wanted the police report faxed to them.) We were persistent and they finally relented and rebooked our flights for Sunday at $0 charge.

Friday morning almost felt normal as we assembled sandwiches for the street feeding at the new stop. However, Lori had been told on Thursday that they wanted to see the recovered car at the police station in the morning. Lori and I got ready to drive it over there, arranging for Mark to pick us up at the police station on the way to the street feeding. Just then Lori got a slightly panicked call from the Delegate telling us to wait for a police escort so she wouldn’t be stopped driving her own stolen car! We had to wait ninety minutes for the police to arrive. Lori handed them the keys and they handed them back stating they would follow her. By this time it was raining and Lori pointed out that the car did not have windshield wipers, to which they replied, “go slow.” She did. Lori automatically turned on the windshield wipers once we got going and we had a moment of comic relief watching the stubs (which we bent away from the windshield) moving back and forth. One bright point was that the car seemed to be running fine.

On Thursday we had discovered that one of my stolen credit cards had been used. At the police station we gave them the information we had gotten by e-mail from the credit card company. I hadn’t been able to contact this company until Thursday and a transaction had gone through on my stolen card on Tuesday. The police were excited to have a real lead. They were able to find out what item was ordered and where it would be delivered. The address was in the beach area next to the bridge. The police staked out the address and it turned out the inexperienced bandits had used one of their own addresses!

During the police investigation, Mark and Lori were required to give names of anyone in their late teen or early twenty’s that they had worked with and reluctantly gave names of some of the young men in Aningas. The police found when they arrived in the village that everyone was eager to show them how much Mark and Lori had done for them and showed them how Mark had repaired and remodeled the galpão and the land they were clearing for an orphanage and told them of the families they have helped and the gospel messages and the Christmas dinners, etc. When Mark and Lori visited the police station the next Monday they noticed a new respect from the police along with an interest in their work in Brazil and wondered where it had come from. They soon learned of the testimony their friends in Aningas had given to the police on their behalf.

Mark arrived with the truck and food and we all headed to the new stop. The deplorable living conditions in this favela are difficult to describe as the “houses” are truly lean-tos and shacks with donkeys and other animals living with them. The people started streaming out of the houses and surrounding us. Anna gave out over 500 of the sandwiches as they kept coming or returning. Caroline and I tried to dispense juice quickly but we could hardly keep up as they were bringing coffee pots and used 2 liter pop bottles to have us fill. Several elderly people came. The people were all smiling and expressing thanks and seemed genuinely thankful for such a treat and wanted to talk to us. Unfortunately, the language was a barrier for me and I could only smile and give them juice. Lori had gone into a house to visit the mother of a young man from another stop and Mark was calling people and taking a look around to see how many houses there were. They took the gospel papers with interest. Please pray for this new work as there is an enormous humanitarian need in this favela and many precious souls to reach with the gospel.

Lori and I took Inacia home that night. Her assembly had been very supportive. She had called them that night during the break-in and they immediately got up and opened up the hall in the middle of the night and gathered to pray together for us. This night when we took her home she told us that they were having a regular monthly all-night prayer meeting, which included fasting in the form of skipping dinner and getting to the hall at dinner time and praying through until morning. I believe she said the prayer topics vary each month but we were still on their list that night. It was very emotional for me to say good-bye to Inacia as she is truly one of the family. It was one of the many times I wished I could have talked to her directly, without a language barrier.

Saturday was a day of mixed feelings, long talks and hugs. We were anticipating our flights home on Sunday but had heavy hearts at leaving this family, this work and now this mess.

Sunday we got up at 3:30 a.m. and arrived at the airport at 5:00 a.m. Before going in, Mark pulled the truck over and stopped to pray and commit our day and trip to the Lord. I felt the effect of that prayer carry us all the way home. We expected this last day to go somewhat smoothly but it quickly began to unravel. We arrived at the TAM counter to check in and were told our reservations had been cancelled. Since it was 5:00 a.m. no one was answering the phone at United, where the flights had been booked through a partner agreement. There was no WIFI so the i-phone didn’t work and the internet café didn’t open until 10:00 a.m. so there was no way to work on this on-line. The pay phones in Brazil do not accept credit cards and do not make international calls. However, there are a couple of special phones that accept international calling cards so we went to purchase one. The lady in the sundries store at the airport patiently explained how to get such a card and ended with the amazing words “at least that is what I would do if the machine was working!” We went back to the airline counter where they tried again to contact United. They said the only thing they could do was sell us the two seats that were available (our own seats) for R$1,700 (at 60% this was over $1,000.) Of course we knew if we did this that we had little chance of recovering the money from United. We looked at each other wondering if we should keep trying or accept this as the Lord’s will that we should not leave that day.

At 6:00 a.m. we woke up Eliel and asked him if he could make international calls. He said he could and would and took down all our flight information. We tried calling him back every ten to fifteen minutes after that and his phone was busy for over an hour. They called us back to the desk at 6:50 a.m. and told us they were closing the flight and there were no other seats to São Paulo that day. We hadn’t heard back from Eliel so we all got back in the truck and headed home. On the drive home we reached Eliel and he delivered the news that he had gotten us on a 2:00 p.m. flight to Brasilia and then a 6:00 p.m. flight to São Paulo and we would be able to connect to our 10:00 p.m. flight to Washington/Dulles.

It is interesting how Eliel accomplished this. He called the “800” number for United in Brazil and chose English thinking he would get more prompt treatment. The recording gave him a “400” number. When he called, the person answering the phone told him, “It is Sunday, go back to bed.” Ah . . . Brazil! Eliel couldn’t believe this, especially since he thought the person should at least have said “It is Sunday, go to church!” He said he asked himself, “what can I do? I will start over.” This time when he chose Portuguese he reached someone and was able to get us other flights.

At noon we were back at the airport and said our tearful goodbyes. The remaining flights were uneventful although all of the connections left us no extra time and we landed in Detroit about 9:00 a.m. on Monday. Heidi and Blake were waiting to take us to my parents’ house so that everyone could see that we were home safely and hear about our trip.

Later that day, back in Natal, Mark, Lori, Caroline and William were called in to the police station to identify the first of three people they picked up as he was caught red-handed when the package was delivered. (An Adidas shirt purchased with my stolen card!) Lori told me they all recognized him without any doubt and signed a statement to that effect. The next day they were asked to identify the second and third suspects and again there was no doubt. Now they wait for the police to do their recovery work and “the rest of the story” will have to come from them when it concludes.

Mark and Lori have given up much and given much to do this work. I have watched them on both visits look to God and depend on Him to direct all of their activities on a daily basis. I also know in my heart that they would willingly have given up all of the possessions that were stolen for God. It is not the loss of possessions that has gripped them, but instead the delays and costs that have hindered God’s work. When they resumed the regular feeding the next week, Lori told me they were met by some with tears saying “we thought you would go back home to America.” They all affirmed that they were where God wanted them to be and they were staying. Please continue to pray for Mark, Lori, Caroline, William and Inacia, especially with increased security concerns, and for all of the work being done for God in and around Natal. There are so many souls to reach.

Lastly I would like to say that we all felt the comfort and support of being lifted up in prayer by many Christian friends and family when news reached home and it is difficult to express how much we felt ourselves carried by those prayers in the days that followed. Thank you.

Note: for more insight on the topic of the street children of Brazil, there is an excellent book Lori showed me titled “A Cry from the Streets” by Jeannette Lukasse. It is available for about $10 at CBD or Amazon.